Harvesting economic independence in Tanzania

by Melanie Lidman

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Regardless of the country, or the congregation, or the project, the obstacles that makes sisters struggle to keep their programs afloat almost always come down to one thing: money.

Financial sustainability is one of the biggest challenges for sisters around the world. While starting projects on a shoestring budget, sisters must also find ways to be economically independent to ensure that their programs can sustain themselves. In developing countries, one road toward financial sustainability is agriculture. In addition to raising their own food, sisters often employ novel agricultural techniques that serve as role models for the rest of the community.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Kilimanjaro (CNDK), founded in 1931, is one of the largest congregations in Tanzania with more than 1,000 sisters. It is a diocesan congregation, meaning the sisters do not have an international network of wealthier communities to draw funds from. (There are a few CNDK sisters living in St. Petersburg, Florida.) Their novitiate house, nestled at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro outside of the northern town of Moshi, has almost 100 candidates, aspirants and novices.

The novitiate house has two properties with 80 acres, giving the congregation enough room for a very large garden as well as space to raise chickens, pigs, cows and sheep. The sisters also have a processing plant to make oil from the sunflower seeds they grow there.

Across the dirt road from their novitiate house is their "shamba" or farm, where the sisters grow maize. Except for basic foodstuffs like flour, sugar and rice, the 100-member house eats only what they grow, meaning they can save their money for other things. They also extensively train the novices in agricultural methods, so the sisters-to-be can continue to raise gardens and grow their own food wherever they are stationed.

Agriculture is not the only answer to economic sustainability. It is rarely lucrative enough to bring in large amounts of money, and environmental changes linked to global warming make farming more challenging than ever. But agriculture is an important aspect of the different ways sisters are supporting their ministries in far-flung parts of the world, without relying on international donors or the church hierarchy for money.

Since Tanzania is below the equator, August marks the end of the rainy winter season and the start of the dry season. Late August sees the maize harvest across the country, when trucks piled impossibly high with dried maize stalks tear down the dirt roads. The maize is harvested after it is completely dry, making it easy to store before it is ground into flour.

Click here to see more photos of novices and aspirants harvesting the maize this past August under the watchful eyes of their superiors in a slideshow, complete with narrative captions.

[Melanie Lidman is Middle East and Africa correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Israel.]